Migrant Pentecostal churches and the transformation of urban space in Johannesburg

Murahwa, Brian
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This study is developing in a context where there is an expanding geography of Pentecostal religion in the urban spaces of many of the cities of the Global South. Employing a qualitative research design and seeing through the theoretical lenses of Pentecostal religio-spatialities, the study uses Hillbrow, an old inner-city neighbourhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, as its social laboratory to illustrate the intersection of Pentecostal geographies and urban space in the making of everyday city life. The study argues that the intersection of Pentecostal religion and urban space creates socio-economic, political, and spatial diversities and leads to the transformation of the urban space. Through the Pentecostal mobilities (of people, objects, and vehicles), sound, images, fashion, buildings and the media, the city’s (Johannesburg) everyday life is reconfigured. By carefully exploring the mutually interlacing relationship between Pentecostal religion and urban space, I propose a multi-perspective and interdisciplinary approach to understanding the contemporary realities of cities of the Global South, to envision the continent’s uncertain urban future and contribute towards new geographies of theories that draw upon urban experiences and everyday realities. This is critically important in contexts where there has been a perpetual neglect of the religious in analysing African urbanism(s). Building on rich ethnographic experiences of more than 18 months of fieldwork, the study draws evidence from two immigrant-run Pentecostal churches in Hillbrow to illustrate how Pentecostal religion is spaced and space is Pentecostalised. The study does so by revealing the Pentecostal religion’s transformative force of urban space in Hillbrow, a community that is witnessing expanding Pentecostal geographies.
A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Urban and Regional Planning), 2022